The man who wants to turn the world upside down

Herbert: more is less and anyone who thinks different will be "mugged by reality".
Herbert: less is more and anyone who thinks different will be “mugged by reality”. Pic:

Specious use of statistics, intellectual sloppiness and deliberate misunderstanding have been hallmarks of David Cameron’s government and its supporters, but former Home Office minister Nick Herbert’s piece in the Guardian on Tuesday plumbs new depths.

If you can’t be bothered to read it (and, frankly, why should you?) it boils down to this: as crime has fallen when police numbers are being cut, this proves that cutting public services makes them better. Not just better at getting by on a shoestring, but better full stop.

You know it already, but I’ll say it anyway: just because two things happen at the same time doesn’t mean that one caused the other.

There is no evidence that crime is falling because police are fewer or more efficient (if there was, you can be sure Herbert would have quoted it). Since crime has been falling for almost 20 years, during which time police numbers have risen and fallen, what evidence there is suggests there is no real link between the two.

You can, of course, just reverse Herbert’s “reasoning”: perhaps we’re getting by with fewer police because there’s less crime. Just a thought. But I think there’s an old saying that says if you can reverse an argument and it makes just as much sense, it’s no argument at all. (And if there isn’t, there is now.)

You might as well say that because it’s hot and England are thrashing the Aussies in the Ashes, England play better in hot weather. Or, just as well, that when England are winning at cricket, God sends us a heatwave.

Stuart Broad and Matt Prior celebrate another Aussie wicket: but are England winning because it's hot, or is it hot because England are winning?
Stuart Broad and Matt Prior celebrate another Aussie wicket: but are England winning because it’s hot, or is it hot because England are winning?

On this invisible intellectual sand, Herbert wants to build a very big castle: cut the NHS and we’ll all get healthier; cut schools and our kids will be brainer; cut tax inspectors and Amazon and Starbucks will stump up the billions they owe us. For Herbert’s ilk, austerity is not an emergency measure; it’s a permanent panacea. ‘It was only when the country ran out of money that the old orthodoxy was challenged,’ he writes. ‘Suddenly the world where we measured the quality of services by how expensive they were [I must have missed that ‘world’] has been turned upside down.’

On Herbert’s logic, you go on cutting until public services cost absolutely nothing, by which time they will have reached a point of infinite perfection – fucking brilliant, eh?

If Herbert really believes this stuff, I’ve three challenges for him:

  • Try applying it to the military – they’re very big spenders. I’m sure our boys in Afghanistan will welcome the opportunity to do more with less.
  • MPs are an expensive part of the private sector. As a pilot measure, why not slash your own office cost allowance? This should make you a much more efficient representative for the people of Arundel and South Downs. And having to type your own letters should give you less time to pen crap articles for the Guardian.
  • Lobby Eric Pickles (in public please) to cut funding for Arun, Chichester, Mid Sussex and Horsham councils. The super-efficient services that will surely result should pay handsome dividends for you at the ballot box (and think of all those pints lined up for you by grateful local councillors in the Arundel Conservative Club).

Time and time again ideological neo-cons like Herbert try to ram this ‘world turned upside down’ shit down our throats, and mostly we keep swallowing it: you help the poor by making the rich richer; you get out of a recession quicker by making it worse; you create jobs by making it easier to sack people. Time and time again evidence from the real world proves them wrong, but they don’t care. Their free market ideology tells them that it is so.

Saying ‘you get more for less’ rather than ‘you get what you pay for’ is certainly a challenge to ‘the old orthodoxy’. But so is saying the world is flat and water flows uphill. Sometimes challenging the old orthodoxy just means talking crap.

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